I’d like to begin this article with a confession: I had never been a fan of love teams (or OTPs—One True Pairings—as some of my friends call them) before last year. KathNiel (Kathryn Bernardo and Daniel Padilla) teleseryes could only elicit an unenthusiastic “meh” from me, LizQuen’s (Liza Soberano and Enrique “Quen” Gil) Forevermore was absolutely nothing to me more than an airtime filler between TV Patrol and Bandila, and I even went as far as to call Nadine Lustre “Budget Kathryn.” Suddenly, Antoinette Jadaone and Jojo Saguin’s On the Wings of Love came to conquer the boob tube and I instantly became the newest convert to the Church of JaDine (James Reid and Nadine Lustre). In the name of the father, and of the son, and of Nadine Lustre, amen.
Yes, I do consider myself late to the party—or to the homily—just because many of my friends on social media have already been stanning them long before I set my cloven foot into the congregation. Contradictory as it may seem, I used to see myself as a pop culture elitist, only watching Game of Thrones, Louie, Parks and Recreation, Mad Men, and the like. I realized that I was missing something very important, something that any self-respecting pop culture fan couldn’t and shouldn’t turn a blind eye to, something that was once reserved for the Filipino masa, but has lately turned into a phenomenon that successfully transcends social classes, professions, and age brackets. More than JaDine, the love team phenomenon is here to stay.
Some people stan athletes, sports teams, and bands, but why onscreen pairings? “I never thought I’d be stanning a love team back then, but I guess it’s something we can all relate to,” says 29-year old KathNiel fan and IT supervisor Vanessa Valencia. “It’s not like it’s a frustration or anything, it’s just like you’re watching a younger version of yourselves.” Talk about being caught in a not-so-bad romance. Come to think of it, it’s a good enough reason to fall in love with the whole idea of love itself, or in this case, love teams.
And yet, pairings are hardly a new concept. Ask your tita and she’ll probably hark back to the black-and-white days of Susan Roces and Fernando Poe Jr. versus Amalia Fuentes and Romeo Vasquez, and even Guy and Pip versus Vi and Bobot. We can argue that the various characters JaDine, KathNiel, and LizQuen portray are mere modern-day (and less tragic) reincarnations of Romeo and Juliet. We’ve had the same overwrought storylines rehashed over and over for centuries, only in different media. I guess it’s safe to say that good ol’ fashioned romance is actually timeless, but imagine this being magnified several million times today—depending on the number of tweets per trending hashtag—and cutting across all social boundaries. What a time to be alive.
Love (Teams) in the Time of Social Media
Fashion experts predict that by the end of this decade, no single trend will be able to capture the period’s spirit, character, and overall feel. I’m afraid to say that the current love teams, being inherently fashionable and trendy, are bound to suffer the same fate. We get bombarded with loads and loads of information the moment we sit in front of our laptops or turn on our smartphones. By the time rumors of Leading Man X dating Leading Lady Y reach the 6:00 p.m. news, most of us will have moved on to a less stale gossip topic. Everything’s happening so fast that it’s a surprise we’re still able to keep up with the turning tides of the surging digital waves.
This is where marketing comes in. The network is a ship on a romantic cruise that, strangely enough, casts a wide net to test the waters. So, you know, we’re all just a school of fish in the same boat, reeled in by the JaDine, KathNiel, and LizQuen craze. And some nets catch more fish than others. Okay, I will have to drop the marine-inspired metaphor to make way for another. Chemistry, we might be forgetting, is the sole element common in all successful onscreen pairings. Sixteen-year-old student and JaDine fan Jeanne Aguilar observes, “I can categorize chemistry into two different types: 1. Natural, which is pretty obvious; and 2. Acquired, which can be learned during workshops, TV and film shoots, etc.”
There may be a class devoted to learning it, but there’s really no single formula when it comes to chemistry. Testing involves a lot of trial-and-error experiments in full view of the social media-savvy target audience. Do they have charisma? Do they look good together? Can they finish each other’s sentences? Are they inseparable in all aspects? This is why so many love teams other than JaDine, KathNiel, and LizQuen have been taken off the market. Chemistry is what makes love (teams) the best legal drug, and, as far as I see, only the three can give the most addictive high.
Reel or Real?
“Filipino teleserye viewers are generally romantic and idealistic,” TV writer and ABS-CBN digital media coordinator France Sajorda explains. “’Di lang teleserye, kahit sa everyday life natin. Pa-involve tayo sa buhay ng iba, especially sa love stories. We get attached sa pinapanood natin. Kaya nagkakaroon ng malaking fan base ang love teams sa mga serye natin. ’Yung attachment na ’yun leads them na sundan pa rin ang love story ng mga bida off-cam and even after magtapos ang serye. They find pairings ideal na, ‘Kung ’di man ako magkaroon ng love life, at least ’yung love team na bet ko magkatuluyan on and offscreen.”
For the average love team fan, the suspension of disbelief seems to remain effective long after the credits roll. It’s the peak of escapism: while her feet are comfortably planted on the ground, her head seems to wander off into a parallel universe where real and undying love reigns supreme. Maybe France is right in that it’s mostly due to the emotions the Filipino teleserye viewer invests in things even if it were only supposed to make them temporarily happy. It then becomes the onscreen couple’s duty to act as if their fantastic love story were more than what it really is.
And though it’s not actually necessary for, say, Liza and Enrique to end up together in real life, we can’t imagine them pairing up with anybody else, off-screen or otherwise. We already have this ideal image of them two carved into our brains. The last thing a solid love team fan needs is to come to terms with the fact that everything is just make-believe. “We don’t like to be taken for fools,” says 26-year-old makeup artist and LizQuen fan Cheska Gutierrez. “It’s not like in other countries where people could support a project even if fans know that the lead actors aren’t together in real life. Our way of idolizing really goes beyond the camera. We’d want them to date in real life to fulfill that fantasy we see onscreen.”
On the whole, I think we just need a big, strong dose of reality check every now and then. It’s important to keep an open and critical mind lest we fill it with unhealthy expectations of what a relationship should be, especially because these ideal concepts of young love are simply hinged on marketability.
They are artists. As the cliché goes, if we love someone, we should be ready to set them free. The love team may be an actor’s showbiz training ground du jour, but, eventually, we’re going to have to let the partners work and grow independently of each other. Let Nadine, Kathryn, or Liza soar high in the sky with the help of a magic stone, away from James, Daniel, or Enrique. Let them be themselves off-duty and date whomever they please.
They are people. They may be called “idols” for a reason, but it doesn’t mean they’re exempt from making mistakes from time to time. Call them out when they act unbecomingly. It’s never healthy to keep a “my idol, right or wrong” mindset.
It’s a pop culture phenomenon. As fans, we are mere consumers. Buying concert tickets and watching their shows don’t really add up to our individual identities. You’re a true fan if you say you are, even if you can’t afford the merch, but please let’s stop making stanning a contest.
At the end of the day, the ship sails homeward and we are left to write and live our very own romantic fantasies.
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Original article by Stefan Punongbayan, collage Maine Manalansan, and photos courtesy of (Kathryn Bernardo and Daniel Padilla) BJ Pascual for Metro, (Nadine Lustre and James Reid) Doc Marlon Pecjo for StarStudio, and (Liza Soberano and Enrique Gil) Andreo Esguerra for StarStudio. Check out more exciting stories in the latest issue of CHALK , now out in major bookstores. CHALK is available in bookstores and on newsstands for P100. Download the CHALK Magazine app for access to all digital editions on your tablet or smartphone, available in Zinio, and Buqo Digital Newsstands. Like CHALK on Facebook and follow us on Twitter (@chalkdotph) and Instagram (@chalk.ph).